Teaching teachers: SIUE faculty share science knowledge with local educators

News-DemocratJune 21, 2013 

— East St. Louis Senior High science teacher Mildred Fort uses a scalpel to slice open a bean seed Friday afternoon to determine if it's viable.

She pointed out the different parts of the seed and whether the tetrazolium chloride has turned the top and bottom of the embryo red. If both are red, then the seed is viable.

Fort and 16 other educators from East St. Louis School District 189 and one teacher from Cahokia School District 187 were participating in a two-week professional development program at Henry White Research Farm. The program is provided by Southern Illinois University-Edwardsville faculty to learn about the Next Generation Science Standards.

Prior to the hands-on activity, SIUE associate professor of biological science Kelly Barry explained that the tetrazolium test, often referred to as the TZ test, is a reliable and widely-used method to determine if seeds can grow.

"It's a very easy test to do, but it's very difficult to interpret," Barry said. "It tells you what cells are live in the seeds."

The teachers learned all about life science, from seed viability to hydroponics, on Friday. Life science is one of the four components of NGSS.

When the educators were asked to draw and label a two-leaf bean seedling, some pulled out their smartphones and did a quick Internet search. Barry reminded them they shouldn't do something they don't allow their students to do.

Barry said drawing a model is a "powerful engineering practice" that can help teachers evaluate what a student knows prior to a new lesson and what they retained from it afterward.

The educators learned about the three other components of the NGSS, physical science, Earth and space science and engineering and technology, earlier this week.

Fort said she's learned a lot including how to integrate the new standards into "what we have been doing." Fort also serves as the science department chair at East St. Louis Senior High School.

"I've learned a lot of new ideas on how we can teach science more hands-on," she said.

Assistant Principal Lori Chalmers agreed. "It's a lot of hands-on activities about NGSS standards and how to incorporate them into the classroom," said Chalmers, who will work at Officer and Katie Wright elementary schools in the fall.

Next week the educators will work in groups to develop a unit for their students this fall that incorporates at least three components of NGSS, according to Georgia Bracey, a researcher at SIUE's Science, Technology, Engineering and Math Center.

"Eventually, the units will be available online," Bracey said. "The hope is to build high-quality online modules/classroom units."

The cost of the professional development training is covered by an Illinois Math Science Partnership Grant, which is funded through the U.S. Department of Education.

"The goal is to increase student achievement in science through professional development with an emphasis on content and NGSS," Bracey said.

The educators from East St. Louis and Cahokia will meet with SIUE faculty four times this fall to continue their professional development training.

Contact reporter Jamie Forsythe at 239-2562 or jforsythe1@bnd.com.

Contact reporter Jamie Forsythe at 239-2562 or jforsythe1@bnd.com.

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